Governor Gary Herbert moved Moab to “low-risk” public health restrictions along with the majority of the state on May 29, rejecting requests from local government and public health officials for modifications and despite a growing number of COVID-19 cases in the area.
SEUHD reports 12 positive COVID-19 cases in Grand County with 4 currently active. All reported cases are Grand County residents.
Grand County Council members approved the move from medium to low-risk restrictions but requested some variances at a May 28 special meeting after hearing recommendations from the Southeast Utah Health Department and Moab Regional Hospital. Councilmember Curtis Wells was the sole vote in opposition.
The new public health order requested that local restrictions on hotels and motels continue limiting total occupancy and mandating a 24-hour rest period between room rentals. At the meeting, SEUHD Environment Director Orion Rodgers reported that the rest period was welcomed by hotel staff and that he had heard no complaints from any businesses about the policy.
“I think these special restrictions are important to send a message that we are on guard still,” said Grand County Councilmember Gabriel Woytek during the meeting, noting that the high levels of tourism and travelers to a rural community make Moab a unique community in the state.
“And I think we deserve respect on the state level to implement these safeguards,” he said.
However, the revised order was refused just hours later by the Governor’s office, despite previous comments from Gov. Herbert that he would not dictate to local health departments and his longstanding support of political philosophies prioritizing local control of government.
A recently signed law places local public health orders under state jurisdiction, allowing local ordinances to be overturned by the Governor’s Office.
Sloan and SEUHD Director Bradon Bradford had expressed optimism that the Governor’s Office would approve the recommendations at the special meeting, though Bradford had noted “you really never know.” The announcement was met with some disappointment.
“The Governor has touted local control; yet, he has refused to give Grand County enough time to evaluate the impact of our busy Memorial Day weekend or the opening of the parks,” said Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan in an email.
“We recognize that there are many things to consider in the timing of reopening,” said MRH CEO Jen Sadoff in a conversation with the Moab Sun News, adding that hospital officials had hoped for “some additional time to see the impact that reopening lodging a couple of weeks ago would have on the case counts before opening further.”
Bradford had noted that COVID-19 information and tests often lag behind infection dates by eight to twelve days, making the effect of increased tourism or other changes on public health difficult to evaluate.
Sadoff expressed confidence in the hospital’s COVID-19 plan and her assurance that there was support and ICU capacity available in other regional hospitals.
“The key to keeping transmission rates at levels hospitals can handle will be visitors and locals wearing masks in public spaces, as the Governor recommends, and for people to remain vigilant about practicing social distancing and hand hygiene. If these things happen, transmission rates, even with tourism, may be manageable,” she said.
SEUHD estimates that over 2,950 tests have been conducted in Grand, Emery and Carbon counties, with 30 positive tests reported in the tri-county area as of June 3.
On May 16, Gov. Gary Herbert had previously allowed Grand County to remain with higher restrictions in place while much of the state was moved to the low-risk category, but after the local public health ordinance expired he declined to approve a revised version.
The state of Utah saw its greatest increases in COVID-19 positives in the past week, with total cases surpassing 10,000. 6,319 people are considered “recovered,” which is defined as surviving at least three weeks after diagnosis.
The municipalities of Salt Lake City, Bluff and Mexican Hat were permitted to remain at an “orange” or moderate-risk due to their coronavirus case counts and public health official guidance. The town of Bluff had requested to remain at “red” or high-risk but that request was also denied by the Governor’s Office.
Those who show any symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to get tested at Moab Regional Hospital. The tests are covered by insurance and there is no charge for those without health insurance.
Tests for COVID-19 are now recommended for a those with one or more from the following list of symptoms: fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, chest pressure, headache, gastrointestinal distress (vomiting or diarrhea), sore throat, muscle aches, loss of taste of smell, frequent sneezing, and/or allergy symptoms.
To talk to a nurse about symptoms and schedule a test, call the Moab Regional Hospital COVID-19 hotline at 435-719-3998.
Grand County COVID-19 cases up to 12 total, 4 active
“The Governor has touted local control; yet, he has refused to give Grand County enough time to evaluate the impact of our busy Memorial Day weekend.”
– Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan